As educators, we know that understanding underlying theory helps inform our practice. Whether it is movement, alignment, or overall kinesthetic awareness, striking a balance between theory and practice is essential for students to leave with a deeper understanding of their bodies. Seeking this balance is an ongoing process because no student is the same as another, and even the same student can fluctuate from session to session. So what are the ways in which we can be effective educators? By asking questions and thinking like a student!
Supporting Students Means Being Present
To really help our students, we must be prepared to alter our teaching plans based on the performance we are seeing that day, in the moment. That might mean taking a step back to drill a particular exercise, or it might mean having the student silently explore something for themselves under our watchful eyes. For example, we may plan to bring a student to the next level based on a successful previous session, such as transitioning from table position to straight legs in the “Hundred”.
However, just because students were successful in the previous session doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be ready today. Instead of suggesting a certain posture or position, we can encourage students to take some time to explore for themselves. Providing a modality, such as lengthening or contracting, can help students explore within a structure to work things out. If we take the same hundred position, for example, an effective strategy can be to say “see if you can find a way to lengthen–think about your arms, legs, spine and find ways to create space there”. Research in mindfulness suggests that providing a conditional statement (i.e. this could be a way to find length) improves learning and creativity when compared to providing an absolute statement (i.e. this is the way to length) (Langer 2000). The goal of these practices should be for students to embody their own learning, which is quite a dynamic process.
How-to’s of “Dropping-In”
Given that we live such busy lives, the environment and even our own mood can strongly impact both teaching and learning. It is important to find out where students are coming from and help them settle in by listening to their own bodies’. Similarly, it is important for students to let instructors know where they are, physically and mentally. Recovering from a cold or coming down from a hectic week can have significant effects on the body as well as the ability to be present and ready to learn. I have found it effective to encourage students to come early so they can take some time to “drop-in” and center themselves–perhaps even doing some simple stretches on their own.
Dropping-in is just as important for educators, which requires shifting away from the idea of being an expert that’s simply present to impart knowledge.As educators, we can, believe it or not, explore the challenges with the students in the moment to find novel ways to enrich their understanding. This entails a certain amount of improvisation on our part as educators, which can really serve to enhance our own experience while teaching. Listening is a key factor for becoming present for both students and educators–taking a few breaths to settle ourselves can help us all be better students and educators!
Langer, E. J., & Moldoveanu, M. (2000). The construct of mindfulness. Journal of social issues, 56(1), 1-9.